Dak Prescott’s weather-related struggles, Tom Brady’s new weapons and more takeaways from Cowboys vs. Patriots
Here are the four biggest takeaways from the nail-biting Cowboys-Patriots result:Dak Prescott and this Cowboys offense aren’t built for bad weatherDallas’ quarterback went into the game leading the NFL with 3,221 passing yards while averaging 8.8 yards per attempt. Although the Cowboys did run effectively with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard for much of the game (25 carries, 105 yards) and barely won time of possession (30:22), the explosive plays downfield were missing, resulting in no touchdowns.Part of the problem was the rain, and before Prescott (19-of-33 passing, 212 yards, one interception) decided to throw while wearing gloves, it was tough for him to grip the ball, which led to his turnover, and his receivers had trouble holding on to the ball on the back end of throws. Another issue was the Patriots’ deep secondary, led by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, shutting out top wideout Amari Cooper (zero catches), who was in and out of the game dealing with a knee injury.PLAYOFF PICTURE: Updated standings for Week 12The Cowboys sometimes get caught in an identity crisis. They can still run well, but they have relied more this season on throwing often to score. This is the game where they needed to stay aggressive and attack, but the conditions didn’t allow for it. This means that Dallas might be OK with playing indoors at home, at Minnesota and at New Orleans in the playoffs, but Green Bay, Seattle or an extra-windy Santa Clara wouldn’t be ideal locales. The Cowboys are staring at hosting a game in the wild-card round and then likely going to one of the latter three places for the divisional round.Tom Brady found his young weapons when he needed them the mostBrady didn’t fare much better than Prescott with his passing (17 for 37, 190 yards, one touchdown), but he didn’t turn over the ball and somehow was sacked just twice by a relentless Cowboys pass rush. He also dug deep to find the right connections with his wide receiver corps, which was without Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett.Two rookies, first-rounder N’Keal Harry (one catch, 10 yards) and undrafted Jakobi Meyers (four catches, 74 yards), made big plays in key moments in support of go-to guy Julian Edelman. Harry, drafted because of his speed and size (6-4, 229 pounds), positioned his body well in the end zone for the game’s only touchdown on his only reception.The Patriots reverted to a run-heavy game-plan with a lot of two-tight end sets but didn’t shy away from spreading the field and throwing downfield in vital spots. Brady was more prepared to play in the “dirty” weather in Foxborough after having done it for so many years, and that became an advantage in a one-possession game.The Cowboys still lack a signature win — and now they need to worry about the EaglesThe Cowboys’ five losses have come to the following teams: the Saints, Packers, Jets, Vikings and Patriots. That’s three playoff-bound teams in the NFC and the best team in the AFC. Their wins so far have come against the Giants (twice), Dolphins, Redskins, Eagles and Lions, four non-playoff contenders and the team just behind them in the division.MORE: Twitter trips after questionable penalty call on FrederickDallas can’t get too low about its latest disappointing, frustrating result in a close game against a top opponent. It needs to rebound quickly at home against the Bills (8-3), the strong second-place team in the AFC East, on Thanksgiving. That’s a game the Cowboys need to win with the Bears and Rams around the corner before the big rematch with the Eagles.Speaking of Philadelphia, it has looked horrible on offense in consecutive losses to the Pats and Seahawks, but its very good defense will get to play the Dolphins, Giants (twice) and Redskins around the Week 16 home game against Dallas. The Patriots (10-1) won their latest ugly low-scoring game on the back of their top-ranked defense, 13-9 over the Cowboys (6-5) on Sunday. With rain, wind and temperatures in the 30s at Gillette Stadium, the marquee matchup quickly turned into a battle of attrition instead of a potential shootout between Tom Brady and Dak Prescott.With the win, New England ensured it would remain in position for the top seed in the AFC playoffs after Week 12 with the Ravens (9-2) playing on Monday night. With the loss, Dallas still stays a game and a head-to-head tiebreaker up on the Eagles (5-6) for first place in the NFC East. The Patriots are smart to keep sticking with the running gameNew England has had massive trouble running the ball all season, thanks to injuries across their offensive line, no Rob Gronkowski blocking at tight end and no James Develin lead blocking at fullback. It has been very tough sledding for top power back Sony Michel.Michel, however, got a commitment from Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Sunday, and he ended up rushing for 85 yards on 20 carries. He also got a key first down to help New England all but run out the clock on a potential last-gasp Cowboys comeback.This is the time of year, late November, December and January into the playoffs, where running game and defense clear the easiest paths to winning and travel well regardless of the weather. Credit the Patriots for making the adjustment of proving extra blocking support to get Michel going at the ideal time.